Violations of rights of human rights lawyers in China

Who we wrote to

General secretary Xi Jinping, president of the People's Republic of China.

What’s the issue

We’re concerned about the challenges faced by human rights lawyers in China when carrying out their professional duties.

We’ve sent previous intervention letters between 2013 and 2017, which show a worrying pattern of discriminatory treatment and blatant violations of human rights against lawyers in China.

We remain extremely concerned over the prison sentence imposed on human rights lawyer Jiang Tianyong, who was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on subversion charges in November 2017.

We’re also concerned that on 15 January 2018, human rights lawyer Yu Wensheng’s practice licence was withdrawn. We understand this was because Mr Yu had not been employed by a licensed legal firm in the previous six months.

However, we also understand that Mr Yu tried to set up his own legal practice but on 12 January 2018 his application was denied by the Beijing municipal authority. This was allegedly due to the criticism against the ruling Communist Party that Mr Yu expressed in an open letter three months prior to his application.

On 19 January 2018, we understand Mr Yu was arrested by police officers of Tongshan District Branch of XCPS in Jiangsu province while he was taking his son to school.

Mr Yu was detained in Beijing before being transferred under "residential surveillance in a designated location". During this detention, we understand that Mr Yu was not allowed to meet his family, or access legal counsel of his family's choice.

Mr Yu was formally arrested on 19 April 2018 on suspicion of:

  • "inciting subversion of state power"
  • "obstructing the duties of public officers"

We’re also concerned that on the same date a statement allegedly written by Mr Yu was released in which he dismissed the lawyers hired by his family and asked his wife not to instruct any other lawyer. According to Mr Yu's family, this was totally out of character, given that it would leave him without legal representation.

We’re also concerned about threats received by a group of lawyers in Yunnan province.We understand that on 14 January 2018 local officials accused the group of "illegally" carrying out their professional duties because they had been defending 40 members of a Christian religious group in Yunnan.

The religious group had allegedly been banned by the Communist Party of China. Apparently, the group of attorneys was also threatened with having their licences reviewed by the government.

We also regret the death of the human rights lawyer Li Baiguang, who died on 26 February 2018 at Nanjing No. 81 People's Liberation Army Hospital, where we understand he was admitted for a minor stomachache. This was apparently followed by "a sudden outbreak of illness".

What we asked for

We urged the Chinese authorities to:

  • review Mr Jiang's conviction and immediately release him
  • ensure that Mr Jiang's conditions of detention are in line with international human rights standards
  • investigate the alleged torture and ill-treatment of Mr Yu while in detention, reverse his sentence and reinstate his practice license
  • ensure that a comprehensive and independent investigation is carried out to discover the circumstances of the death of Mr Li, and to publicly share the outcome
  • ensure that all lawyers and human rights defenders in China can carry out their professional duties and advocacy work in an environment free from threats, intimidation and discrimination, in compliance with international human rights standards
  • give due consideration towards ratifying the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights


November 2017 – Jiang Tianyonog sentenced to two years' imprisonment

12 January 2018 – Yu Wensheng's application to set up own practice denied

14 January 2018 – group of lawyers in Yunnan province accused of "illegally" carrying out their professional duties when defending a religious group

15 January 2018 – Yu Wensheng's practise licence withdrawn

19 January 2018 – Yu Wensheng arrested and detained

26 February 2018 – Death of human rights lawyer Li Baiguang after being admitted to hospital for minor stomach-ache

19 April 2018 – Yu Wensheng formally arrested

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